Eileen's Life Lessons

In front of our first house stood a tall, proud walnut tree. We hung a rope over its lowest branch and the kids spent hours in the shade of the tree swinging on the rope. Sounds idyllic, huh? Except in the fall when the walnuts started to drop! The big green fruits would stain the driveway with their messy brown oil and startle us in the quiet morning hours when those baseball-size nuts hit the roof. They’d fall in the yard and trip youngsters trying to play in the  grass and leaves. So I’ve never been a big fan of walnut trees, going so far as to tear out any saplings I find in the easement behind this house.

I was remembering those falls we spent in the “little” house today as I was walking along the canal path, taking in the fall scents. My nostrils filled with the wet leaf scent and a wonderful citrusy smell I couldn’t place. Then it dawned on me: it was the smell of the walnut fruit. As nasty and messy as they were, they always had a fresh and clean scent to them. So now I’ve found something to appreciate about walnut fruits, other than the obvious brain food inside.

Oh and the nuts attract squirrels, which provide hours of entertainment for my crazy dog.

Maybe I can find something to appreciate about every one of God’s creations. Except mosquitoes. I think they came from the Devil.

Are you old enough to remember the conservation efforts of the Jimmy Carter era? When the president asked us to do our best to cut back on energy consumption, I took it to heart. I’m revisiting those ways of thinking now during this Indiana summer plagued with record heat and ongoing drought.

Instead of using the dryer, I’ve hung the towels out to dry. (Not on a laundry line—those are prohibited by our homeowners association—but on the backs of my patio chairs. I’m pretty sure that’s a more offensive sight than those the regulation was trying to avoid!) And we are using water collected in the shower on landscape and house plants. By the time the perfect temperature is reached, we have a stock pot full of clean water.

I still have my downfalls when it comes to environmental efforts–I drive a gas-guzzling minivan, for goodness sake–but I like to think that, overall, Jimmy Carter would be proud of me.

One young man spent an evening writing a song to a young prom prospect. The serenade ended sadly, his heart wounded.

One young man made a bad decision (or maybe a series of them—I don’t know) which caused him to be expelled. He’ll finish up his remaining months of senior year at a different high school, one where he knows few friends, earning a diploma that will hold less meaning for him.

One young man took a risk, followed his dream and applied to a military academy. Outstanding and upstanding in every way, he received his disappointing news today: Denied admission.

My heart goes out to these young men and others suffering through similar struggles. My heart goes out to the parents thinking of what to say to their sons, how to be a comfort, how to encourage them not to give up.

Fortunately as adults we know that this too shall pass—they will get through it. Another girl will come along, another college choice made and they’ll move forward. But fair or unfair, parts of life are really tough and there’s no way to teach it—it’s gotta be first-hand experience—or to avoid it, I guess. I don’t know what to say to them except, rejection hurts! and I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

Dear friends,

In this age of quick e-mails and abbreviations, we tend to skip a step in addressing our correspondence, just jumping into the “meat” of the matter without any introduction. I guess we can figure out that a message is intended for us if it shows up in our Inbox.

True too we can figure out who sent the message, even without a signature, by the Sent address. But without some sort of salutation at the end of a message, sometimes it feels incomplete, like the writer was interrupted, like when someone leaves without saying good-bye.  I’m frequently guilty of shooting off an e-mail without any social grace, but I’m more engaged when I take the time to address my subjects and choose a salutation at the end. Signing off at the end of a message adds a little something special.

Certain people in my life are known by their signatures. My mom is Love always, Mom. Sometimes she adds forever in there too. Ivette uses Big hugs, and I actually feel her embrace. I knew our friendship had reached a new level when my friend started signing her notes with Vi—what her college friends called her—instead of Vivian. Same with people I’ve worked with forever: We just use our first initials instead of typing out names. To some people I’m ED, to others I’m E.

For years I signed my letters with Peace, which I borrowed from my brother-in-law Terry. I still smile when I see his cards signed that way because I know he means it: He wishes you peace, and that’s a really welcome wish. Nowadays I tend to sign off with Take care, which I borrowed from a co-worker Brian. It seems to fit most relationships, and I ALWAYS really mean it as I type it, whether it’s to a friend who is having a hard time or my tax consultant. Some people are cautious about using Love, but I use it when I feel it.

So here’s to wishing you lots of correspondence today—which means you are popular and/or in demand, at least not being ignored—and lots of opportunity to share your greetings and salutations.

Take care, Eileen

P.S. Have a nice day!

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
She always looked nice.
Her house was always clean.
She never picked up her kids late.
She knew how to find a great deal!

While these things seem to matter to me on a daily basis, in the long term, those are not the traits I want to be remembered for. I want people to say, she lived her life generously.

Now if you take a look at my checkbook, you’ll see I cannot afford to write large checks for every fundraiser I’m asked to support. But there are other ways I can be generous.

I can be generous with forgiveness, cutting people some slack, giving them the benefit of the doubt—even if they haven’t earned it.

I can be generous with my praise. I easily recognize when I’m not feeling generous with my praise. It’s when I note something worth complimenting a person about but then decide to keep the positive comment to myself.

I can be generous with my appreciation, my gratitude. I can go out on a limb and give someone a hug, even if I’m not sure she will be receptive.

In my mind I can stop keeping track of the favors I’m owed.

I can give of my time, not just volunteering but also doing the small things that matter, like truly listening to someone who needs to be heard and validated.

Generosity is not taking my turn every time,
not complaining about someone else’s work,
not doing what’s best for me but what’s best for everyone, 
not pointing out someone’s mistake,
taking the blame even when it’s not my fault, 
letting people interrupt my day that is already planned out,
pulling all the weeds—even those across the property line,
offering a ride even if it’s out of my way and I know the favor may never be returned,
doing anything that will enable someone else’s happiness, even if it doesn’t benefit me.

Feeling generous is not a state of financial surplus; it’s a state of mind. And I want to live there.

I love movies. I especially love seeing new releases in the movie theater–it’s a whole different experience than watching HBO at home.

My movie buddies and I don’t have especially high standards for our movie selections. We go see every chick flick and teenie-bopper movie without consulting the critics’ ratings. After all, I have my own rating system that doesn’t really jive with the 1-4 stars or “thumbs up” notations. I rate movies on how many tissues I need to get through the touching scenes.

To appreciate my tissue counting system, you’ll have to understand that I am rather easily moved to tears. I’ve been known to cry at commercials and songs I hear on the radio, in church at my favorite songs or readings (my gentle husband seems to always have a Kleenex in his pocket for me), or if a speaker has hit on a topic I can relate to. But I’m especially emotional in the dark escape of a movie theater for some reason. I never enter a theater without at least two tissues.

Last week I went to see a Heartland Film Festival-recommended movie based on a book that I read, Sarah’s Key. I expected it to be a tear-jerker, as the book is about a young girl who escapes the concentration camps of the Holocaust. Turns out it was only a two-tissue movie. The directors didn’t rely much on their soundtrack, and apparently it is music that makes the emotional moments intensified for me. I’ve cried more during Disney films than I did during last week’s movie.

It is a little embarassing leaving the movie theater wiping my eyes, especially after seeing a Vince Vaughn comedy, so I try to play it off as my eyes having trouble adjusting to the light again. But we all know better–I’m just a sap!

I love my pedometer today. Yesterday I did not love it.

Yesterday I had 3,300 steps, which is pretty short of my 7000-a-day goal. 

The days when I meet friends to run or walk are usually 10,000-step days. I get a pretty red square on the program’s calendar for those days. Green appears on the dates when I’ve hit my 7,000-step goal and the square’s blue—as in sad, I guess—when I’ve had a day of mostly driving kids around and working on the computer.

My highest day so far was on vacation in NYC—I hit more than 18,000 steps in 12 hours that day!

I’m not sure that I like what wearing the pedometer has done to my way of thinking though. You see, I am a super-efficient worker. I naturally combine trips up and down the stairs to avoid wasting time and effort. Now I find that I’m OK making multiple trips to the basement because it adds to my step count.

I might be  a little competitive about it too. I regularly ask my husband what his pedometer says and lately he refuses to answer me, just shakes his head and says that he’s “created a monster.” (He signed me up!)

Today my pedometer measured 7,011 steps. What’s impressive about that is I only had 3,152 at 10 P.M., having spent most of the day either folding laundry or editing on the computer. So the dog and I hit the dark streets of our semi-safe subdivision to clock the additional 3,800. The rest were added by walking in place while brushing my teeth, one of the many tricks I’ve learned to get my count up.

Other tricks include dancing while I’m on the phone and leaving the package of cookies in the pantry so I have to get them one at a time instead of bringing them all to the office with me. Ha!

Maybe I shouldn’t call them “tricks” because that makes it sound like I’m cheating, and I’m not. I’m not tricking the device into reading higher than it should—I’m doing all kinds of movements to reach my goal, and after all, getting us moving is the whole idea behind the pedometer program.

And I’ll love my pedometer even more when I get that first incentive deposit!

Mid-Life Realizations & Reflections

43 years of life experience,
19 as a wife,
16 as a parent,
15 as a writer
= thousands of mistakes made,
lots of lessons learned (some learned more than once), and immeasurable amounts of grace received

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